May 04

A Perennial Pepper Plant – You Can Grow That!

Gardening Jones shares her first experiences at growing a pepper as a perennial plant.

I have heard of people that have pepper plants that are multi-years old.

And guess what? They don’t all live in a year round growing area.

That’s right. People are growing peppers, then bringing them indoors to winter over. Supposedly, you can also keep them growing all year indoors, and that’s what I intend to try. There’s conflicting information online about these methods, so I want to know first hand what the truth is.

Recently a member of Gardenaholics Anonymous shared the pepper plant that she over-wintered. She pruned it quite a lot, and it was doing wonderfully. Her plant is now 1 1/2 years old and getting ready for another season outdoors. A number of websites report that this is the only way to keep a pepper from one year to the next.

My plant shown above is just a few months old, started indoors early in the year. It went through a lot, having developed a nasty case of spider mites, something quite new to us.

But it did survive and is now budding profusely. It had sat in a South facing window all winter, and is now happy to be in the wee greenhouse. If you don’t have a greenhouse, no problem at all, or so I have read. You can keep a pepper indoors all year round. Since they are a day neutral plant, meaning, they will bud regardless of how long the days are, you can just keep them where they get at least 5 hours of light a day, and they should produce for you.

I am using a tuning fork to help move the pollen around in the flowers. As you may know, peppers have both male and female parts in each flower, but they need some help getting them together. A tuning fork works great and you can actually see the pollen as it floats off the flower.

So now I have a bit of a dilemma. I want fresh peppers year ’round, and intend to try to keep this plant alive.

I also want to try my hand at overwintering a plant. You know, just to see if I can.

Most of all, I want to see if I can successfully do both, and report back to you. So I will enlist the help of another pepper plant and give it a go.

Have you ever tried keeping a pepper as a perennial? Your advice would be so helpful.

you can grow that

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by garden writers around the world to encourage everyone to plant something. Click on the logo above for many more posts.

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May 02

Spinach Strawberry Salad

In our Zone 5 garden spinach and June-bearing strawberries ripen at about the same time.

Coincidence?

Well, okay maybe. Still a good reason to enjoy them together.

Gardening Jones shares a few ways you can enjoy a fresh spinach salad.

There are of course tons of variations you can enjoy. Like Spinach Salad with Egg & Bacon, or a Warm Bacon Dressing, Pecans & Pears make nice additions, as do Apples & Walnuts and so on, and so on.

We used Mandarin Oranges & Craisins once, yum.

A simple search on Spinach Salad will turn up more than you might care to find.

So here’s a basic recipe to get you started on what might just become a Creative Spinach Salad Adventure.

Ingredients:

8 cups fresh baby spinach
1 pint strawberries
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. Sesame Oil
3 Tbs. Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tbs. granulated sugar

Directions

Rinse strawberries and spinach, drain well. Top off then slice strawberries.

Toss together the spinach and strawberries in a large bowl.

Mix the oils, vinegar, and sugar. Pour over the spinach and strawberries, and toss to coat.

How to Grow Spinach
More On Strawberries

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May 01

8 Garden Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Some garden lessons are learned by finding out what went wrong. It’s tough because it usually means less or no crop of that particular edible.

But then, they are lessons you never forget.

Gardening Jones takes a look at lessons learned the hard way.

  1. Planting broccoli near the strawberries. I couldn’t figure out why the broccoli plants were not doing well one year, and here it was because I planted them next to the strawberries. Totally stunted the broccoli’s growth. Go figure.
  2. Not pruning grape vines and fruit trees. I knew enough to thin out the strawberry bed, it just never occurred to me that the other fruit bearing plants could use to be pruned as well. Once I learned about pruning, our harvest became significantly better. This is a good example of when less is more. Here’s a great video about pruning fruit trees.
  3. Over fertilizing peppers. As with other nightshades such as tomatoes and eggplants, too much nitrogen will give you showy, bushy plants, but few fruit. Nitrogen helps plants grow leaves, so go heavier on veggies that you eat the leaves, such as cabbage and lettuce. Keep your peppers well balanced, or a wee bit on the phosphorous side, instead.
  4. Planting oregano in the ground. Seriously, this one was bad. As is the case in most areas with all members of the mint family, oregano can be very invasive. It took all the chickens, the dog, and a few years of mowing to get it under control.
  5. Rotating where the garlic is planted. Alliums like to stay where they are put. Just amend the soil as needed in between harvesting and the next planting. This I should have learned from my Uncle Joe, as he was well known for his garlic.
  6. Not using a cool white or fluorescent light bulb when starting seeds. It is very important to keep seedlings close to the light, but the heat a regular bulb throws off can hurt the plants as well as the starting system you are using. A grow or plant light isn’t needed, but a cool light is.
  7. Using top soil in raised beds. Duh. The top soil wasn’t that much better than the clay I was trying to avoid. I ended up cutting it with BM1 which is basically a potting mix that can be purchased in a larger quantity than most, for a less expensive price. With some fertilizer and good compost, all became well again.
  8. Not realizing the need for flowers in the veggie garden. For many years the bee population here was not an issue. There was a bee keeper down the road, and I was happy to share my veggie plants with his bees. I actually thought that if I planted flowers, the bees would prefer them to my veggies. When the bee population began to decline, our neighbor gave up his hives. I learned the hard way that I needed to do my best to attract bees to my garden and have since paid a lot more attention to what bees like. Here’s how to build an easy Mason Bee House to attract more bees for your fruit trees.

What lesson did you learn the hard way?

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Apr 30

What to Do in the Garden – April

Gardening Jones looks at what to do in a Zone 5/6 garden in April.

Coming in under the wire, this is more about what should have been done. Again, this is for our zone 5/6 area, so adjust as needed.

March and April are tough because the weather is so unpredictable. Still, you can plant peas, most leafy greens, cole crops, carrots, beets, radishes, potatoes, and onions by now.

June bearing strawberries should begin to bloom, and the asparagus is likely coming up. Many fruit trees and berry bushes and brambles will be/are budding.

Many herbs such as cumin and chervil can be planted outdoors now. Start others, such as the mint family, indoors. These can be seeded inside as early as 8 weeks before the last spring frost.

Edible flowers like these violas can be planted outside even when frost still threatens. Start others like amaranth, zinnias and marigolds indoors.

Try to refrain from starting quick growing edibles indoors just yet. Plants like squash, melons, and cucumbers don’t care to be transplanted and will likely grow too long too quickly. If you need to start them ahead of time, wait until 2-3 weeks before you intend to plants them outdoors. I started okra inside last week, possibly not a good idea as it is growing very fast.

If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, most plants can go there now. Frost is no longer an issue as they are protected, just watch for any unseasonable drop in overnight temperatures.

Gardening Jones looks at what to do in a Zone 5/6 garden in April.

Any tomatoes that will be container grown can be transplanted in the greenhouse at this time. This pepper was started early last winter and is now in the greenhouse and loaded with buds. I am using a tuning fork to move the pollen and expect to see fruit very soon.

Now is a good time to add fertilizer to your garden if you haven’t yet. Turn your soil over, gently so as not to harm your microscopic friends, and keep the beds free of weeds.

If your soil is at least 50F, and you have a way to protect your tomatoes, it is possible to get them in the ground safely. Those are big IFs though. Personally I have pushed the season and harvested a few tomatoes as much as a month early.

A month is a long time after a winter without a decent tomato to eat, isn’t it?

Here’s more on Extending the Season.

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Apr 29

On the Go – Salad in a Jar

I love salads made with lots of mixed greens and plenty of goodies. The problem is by the time I have finished making one, I don’t feel like eating it.

I think this stems from many years in the restaurant business.

So I was very excited when Mother Willow recently told me about making salads in mason jars.

Gardening Jones shares the basic steps to making a salad in a jar.

What?

“Yep,” she said, “you just put everything in the jar upside down and keep it cold. Then when you are ready to eat, dump it out and it’s in the order you would want.”

Sure enough I did some research and it is as simple as that.

Here’s how:

1. Start with your favorite salad dressing. Like this Raspberry Vinaigrette you can make with homemade Raspberry Vinegar.

2. Add something chunky that doesn’t mind getting wet, like olives, grapes, cherry tomatoes, grated carrot or apple slices. This layer will keep the dressing away from everything else.

3. Add a protein source, especially if this will be a meal. Choose from any cooked or smoked meats or fish, hard boiled eggs, or non-animal proteins such as nuts and other legumes, soy based foods including meat substitutes, and/or quinoa.

4. Add more goodies. The sky is the limit here. We had some with pickled peppers, chopped veggies, and dry fruit and granola mixes.

5. Add the greens last. This way when you invert the jar to serve, the greens come out first and make the base of the salad and the dressing lands on top.

Put a lid on the jar and refrigerate up to 5 days. I made one for each weekday work lunch. They were wonderful and because I had made them in advance, I could enjoy eating them.

So what did I do next? Planted more greens of course.

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Apr 24

There’s Something About Spring

Every year in the spring I go a wee bit crazy.

Gardening Jones gets a wee bit philosophical and aging and the spring season.

Unc’s Stove

 

Okay, sometimes more than that. Like the year I quit smoking. Don’t ask. 😉

I find I feel a strong need for a change.

Some years that meant a perm, others a freshly painted room.

This year it is much more intense. So much so that it is taking precedent over the garden.

I kid you not.

Gardening Jones gets a wee bit philosophical and aging and the spring season.

Before

I think it is because this summer is my 60th. birthday, and although I don’t mind getting older, I feel a strong desire to make a big change.

I have asked my husband to set up my Great Uncle’s stove in the kitchen, which is a lot more involved than it sounds. He’ll need to run some propane lines, and wire the other stove into a back room. It also means moving a lot of furniture.

Our house is so small and so full that you cannot simply move one piece, it impacts pretty much the entire house.

Gardening Jones gets a wee bit philosophical and aging and the spring season.

During.

We bought this property on a shoestring almost 20 years ago, and on a shoestring we did our best to fix it up.

It’s getting there.

Gardening Jones gets a wee bit philosophical and aging and the spring season.

Before.

My life reminds me a lot of this writing desk that my Mother and I antiqued many years ago. It was the style back then in the late 60’s. I’ve hesitated to redo it because of that memory.

But I’ll always have that memory, without all the paint.

So today I began remodeling the kitchen, perhaps the only room that really doesn’t need it; except in my heart. As part of that, I am also stripping the writing desk.

At almost 60, it is time to get rid of the green paint in my life, and let the antique be itself.

Gardening Jones gets a wee bit philosophical and aging and the spring season.

During.

Oh and yep, I’ll get back to you on the after, though it may not be until I turn 60.

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Apr 23

11 Hints for Growing Strawberries

Growing strawberries is easy to do. Here are a few tips to make you even more successful.

Gardening Jones shares some helpful tips for growing strawberries.

  1. Start strawberry plants by seed by barely covering the seeds with a wee bit of potting soil. Keep them moist and warm until they sprout.
  2. When transplanting strawberry plants, be sure not to bury the crown, or the plant will likely die. Plant just deep enough to cover the roots.
  3. Choose a location that gets a lot of sun, 8 hours is the recommendation.
  4. The first batch of strawberry flowers should be pinched off. I know, it’s hard to do; but your plants need to grow a great root system before they start to fruit.
  5. Once established, most varieties will produce runners with baby strawberry plants on the ends. This is great if you want more plants. If you don’t, pinch off the runners so they don’t feed off the mother plant and weaken it. At the very least, limit the number to no more than 3 per plant. The following spring it is a good idea to clip the runners to separate the plants.
  6. Over time strawberry plants will drop their production. Regular thinning helps prevent this by allowing room for new plants to grow.
  7. To help deter birds, paint some stones red and place by your berries before they ripen. You don’t need to be fancy, but you can if you like. Birds see red and think they are berries. After a few disappointing experiences pecking the stones, they give up.
  8. For cleaner berries, consider growing in pots. Or, it is a good idea to use black plastic or other much to help keep them from getting splashed with dirt. Remember also to not wash harvested berries until you are ready to use them.
  9. Likewise, mulching helps prevent weeds and retain moisture.
  10. The end of the season is a good time to thin your plants and to top dress the soil with a balanced fertilizer and some fresh soil.
  11. If you have the room, it is a good idea to start a new strawberry bed after several years in a new spot. You can easily do this by allowing runners to grow into small pots or by simply digging them up in the spring or fall and transplant. Or you can start your plants from seed as we did shown above. We planted this AAS winner, and are going to start some pine-berries once our one and only plant produces fruit. Here’s how to harvest strawberry seeds.
Gardening Jones shares info about the 2016 All-America Selections seeds.

Photo by All-America Selections

All-America Selections Strawberry Delizz

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Apr 18

3 Tips for Transplanting Tomatoes

Whether you are transplanting tomatoes to a larger container or they are going into the garden, a little care can make a lot of difference.

Gardening Jones shares some quick tips for tomato success.

1. Swirled roots.

Tomatoes have massive root systems and can quickly fill a container. Even if they are not fully root bound, if you find your plants are swirling their roots around the inside of the container gently move them away. By loosening them up they will be more likely to spread out when transplanted. If they are left to their own devices, they may continue to swirl even though they have plenty of room.

2. Multiple plants.

The traditional method to deal with more than one plant per pot is to pinch or cut one off, usually the smaller of the two. But many gardeners, myself included, hate to see any plant go to waste.

I have found it better to let the plants grow until the final container. Even though the root systems are more entwined than at seedling stage, they have so much more roots that they seem to recover from the division faster.

I will admit I usually limit my plants to 2 per cup. Dividing 3 can be tough if they are very close together.

3. Keep them out of the light.

Transplanting is stressful to the plant. Either leave your plant light off for the rest of the day, or when transplanting outside choose a cloudy day. In a pinch you can cover your plants with the cup they were in. Just give them a chance to settle in before they are back in the light.

Read more tips here.
The best tomatoes to grow where you live.

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Apr 15

Easy Raised Beds

Gardening Jones shares some tips for making easy raised beds.

You can build a raised bed pert near anywhere.

All you need is the right sun requirements for what you want to grow, and materials for the bed that will hold the soil.

Gardening Jones shares some tips for making easy raised beds.

If the area you choose is on an incline, make sure you keep your bed level. Otherwise, after a rain you will find all your seeds have been washed to one side.

If you don’t intend to grow below ground, you can use cardboard or layers of newspaper to keep away weeds.

Your bed should be 4 feet wide or less, so you can easily reach what is growing in the middle. You can make it as long, or short, as you need.

Similar to planting in a container, you want your soil to be loose so it does not get compacted when it rains.
We use a mix of potting soil and composted cow manure. Choose what is best for what you are growing.

You can use any material for the sides as long as it will hold soil. Take note about using concrete blocks or pressure treated wood for growing food crops.

Gardening Jones shares some tips for making easy raised beds.

This bed was made from old planks from a deck. It is taller than it looks, because it is surrounded by years of newspaper and mulch layers to keep the weeds at bay.

I guess I have ‘raised’ pathways as well.

Gardening Jones shares some tips for making easy raised beds.

We used a little ingenuity to build this bed. The sides were made using fallen tree branches.

The price was right and it works. AS a bonus, the branches slowly decay and add to the soil.

You can also use potted plants, milk jugs, stones, wine bottles, whatever you have on hand. My next bed will be made from pieces of an old broken wooden swing set.

Now I just need to find a little more space. :-)

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Apr 09

15 Tips for Growing Great Potatoes

Usually we would have our potatoes growing by now, but this spring has been unseasonably cold so we are holding off. Although they prefer a cool soil, we thought lows in the teens might be pushing it.

Gardening Jones shares some tips to help you get a better harvest of potatoes.

Here are a few tips we have learned over the years to help you get the most bang for your buck:

  1. Jump start your potatoes by letting them sit indoors with the light on. The light and warmth will help them develop good sturdy eye clusters and help them produce sooner.
  2. Did you accidentally break off a cluster? Not to worry, it will grow back.
  3. Avoid adding manure to the bed, they don’t care for it. If you feel you must amend the soil, use a very well aged composted manure preferably the fall before planting. We just use plain homemade compost and stay away from the manure.
  4. Plant smaller potatoes whole, no need to cut.
  5. Larger ones will produce more if you cut them leaving 1-2 eyes per piece. But don’t cut too small, the new growth will feed off the flesh for the first few weeks.
  6. No need to let the potatoes cure after cutting unless you have wet soil, though it doesn’t hurt. Since we plant in the spring, we let ours dry. Plant cut side down so the eyes are facing up. Don’t stress it though, the stems will find their way.
  7. Plant about 4-5 inches deep in well loosened soil. Once the stems are about 6-8″ tall, begin hilling by covering the area with more soil or with straw. You can  also plant them deeper in a trench, cover with about 4″ of soil, and then use the extra soil to hill them.
  8. Potatoes love molasses. Dissolve about a cup of the stuff in a 5 gallon bucket of water. Stir throughout the day and pour over your potato beds about once per month during the growing season.
  9. Using molasses also helps prevent potato scab because it feeds and helps to multiply the healthy microbes in your soil which can fight off scab. Using good compost also helps prevent scab. Don’t use manure though, this can cause problems.
  10. The more room you give your potatoes the larger they can grow. If you prefer smaller potatoes, plant them about 8″ apart. For larger varieties that can produce bigger potatoes, give them a foot.
  11. If the Colorado Potato Beetle was a problem in your garden, whether it attacked your eggplant, tomatoes, or potatoes, be sure to plant as far away as possible. The adults burro into the soil and over-winter. Hand picking the beetles off is a very effective way to deal with them.
  12. Think it isn’t worth growing potatoes? Read this.
  13. Keep your potato bed well watered all season, but especially when the flowers show up as this means they are growing spuds below.
  14. Not all varieties produce flowers, but when you do see blooms it means you can start harvesting small or new potatoes. This is about 10 weeks in, depending on the variety.
  15. Reduce watering when the stems turn yellow. Harvest the remaining potatoes after the tops have died off and before the first fall frost. Do this gently as to not damage the potatoes. If any do get bruised or cut, use them first.
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